Contrary to popular images of paleontologists, most scientists who study fossils do not spend all their time in the field. Weather, time, and financial resources all limit how long paleontologists can spend discovering new fossils, and typically the field season is limited to a few precious weeks in the summer. The rest of the year, paleontologists are busy teaching and conducting research on fossils that have already been collected and prepared.
Another limiting factor is that fossil sites are often hard to get to. Fossils are preserved in sedimentary rocks, and therefore can only be found in areas where bedrock is exposed and accessible. Rocky areas are inhospitable and often far from settled areas – they're called badlands for a reason. Reaching these distant locales is a formidable challenge, and requires a lot of planning.
As it happens, Dinosaur Park is located in the Washington, DC suburbs. This means that we can monitor the site and hunt for fossils year round. With the help of visitors, our goal is to collect every last bit of fossil material that weathers out of the quarry – an impossible task at more remote localities! The accessible location of Dinosaur Park provides a unique opportunity to collect a larger sample size and potentially understand the preserved ecosystem in unprecedented detail.
Since we’re looking for fossils at Dinosaur Park all the time, sometimes we find the rest of partial fossils found months earlier. This just happened at our last Open House. On the left side of the image above you’ll see about two thirds of an ornithomimid claw (Clarence Schumaker’s illustration of an ornithomimid on the right). The bottom, or proximal, part of the claw was found by Dinosaur Park interpreter James Bovis this past August. The top, or distal, part of the claw was found by visitor Rebecca W. last week. If we hadn’t been searching the quarry year round we never would have been able to find and unite those two pieces. The claw is still missing the very tip, however – here’s hoping we find it eventually!